Playtime is over for governors

27th May 2005 at 01:00
As the Government starts its third term, a whole new raft of requirements faces schools, writes Stephen Adamson

Governors who think that the general election gave them respite from worrying about new requirements should think again. Pushed forward as a key piece of legislation, the Education Bill was rushed through Parliament and emerged practically unscathed, receiving royal assent just before the election was called. The foundations of the programme for schools are already laid and construction work will start this autumn.

Governors and headteachers can therefore look forward to learning about how to draw up school profiles in the next academic year, and can pension off the skills they learned in writing annual reports.

The new inspection regime will also start in September, with its shorter inspections, minimal notice and emphasis on school self-evaluation. Here a few amendments were made to the Bill, some of which will give a measure of reassurance to governors whose schools are judged to be causing concern.

If the inspectors consider that a school needs special measures or a "notice to improve" (a single term replacing "serious weakness" and "underachieving") the school will have a few days after receiving the draft report to make representations to the chief inspector, who has to decide whether to endorse the school inspectors' judgement.

However, it is still going to be a rush as the response period is only five days. In such cases the chief inspector must consider any views put to him by the governors, head, school staff, parents or pupils.

Three-year funding for schools will start in April. However, this will not be straightforward. For a start, cross-government spending reviews are only carried out every other year, so you will only get a full three-year picture in alternate years. In between, your projected budget will be for two years, with a further five months added on to take you from the end of the financial year to the start of the school year.

The Department for Education and Skills is consulting on this and other aspects of the funding commitment, most of which focus on how to strike the balance between stability and fairness. If schools want to know exactly what they are going to get for a couple of years ahead, then there is no room for flexibility should circumstances change.

Another question that will concern governors in the consultation is the possibility of producing accounts twice a year. It will make sense in many ways for schools to run budgets for the academic year, especially as the largest element - staff pay - runs September to August.

But rules about public spending mean they have to account each year at the end of March, even if they are also doing accounts to the end of August.

Primary schools in rural areas which are facing possible closure because of falling rolls can take some comfort from one of the provisions of the Act, which obliges local authorities to consider what effect closing a school would have on local communities and on transport needs before they decide The new Disability Discrimination Act was also given priority, and received royal assent on April 7. Although schools are not mentioned much in the accompanying draft guidance, they are going to be subject to the requirements placed on local authorities. These oblige them to provide opportunities for disabled people to participate fully, and to eliminate any discrimination against them.

What did not make it through before the election? Perhaps ironically, in light of the previous paragraph, the School Transport Bill was withdrawn in March. This government-sponsored Bill would have enabled local authorities to draw up school transport schemes. They would no longer have been obliged to provide free transport but could have made arrangements which they thought best met local needs, including making it more attractive to walk or cycle to school. However, as the Bill was a promised consequence of the Government's Travelling to School: an Action Plan of 2003, we should expect to see it reappear.

For lovers of irony, a private member's Bill that addressed the question of nutrition in school dinners earlier in the year fell at its second reading because not enough members were present in the Commons (presumably they were in the canteen). Perhaps it would have been different had the Jamie Oliver revolution started a month earlier.

And while we are on the subject of nutrition, the updates to the Guide to the Law, which were issued last term, removed nutrition from the list of statutory policies, a position it has enjoyed for some years. Schools are, nevertheless, still expected to comply with national guidelines; they just do not have to have a written policy.

A new Guide to the Law will be issued next term. Somebody at this very moment is working out how to incorporate all these changes into it.

Stephen Adamson is vice-chair of the National Association of School Governors

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